British Columbia

Despite promises, little progress on reviving dormant Vancouver Island railway

The E&N Rail Line, which stretches from Victoria to Courtenay — with a midpoint extension to Port Alberni — has sat dormant since 2011, despite public ownership of the tracts and land.

The line is publicly owned, but has been unused since 2011 and would need millions in upgrades

A rail trestle on Vancouver Island that currently sits dormant. (Friends of Rails to Trails/Facebook)

There may be a new government, but the discussion over Vancouver Island's 234-kilometre rail line remains the same. 

"We do want to find a solution. It is obviously hard ... hopefully, we'll be able to find something that does solve some of the problems," said Transportation Minister Claire Trevena. 

The E&N Rail Line, which stretches from Victoria to Courtenay (with a midpoint extension to Port Alberni) has sat dormant since 2011, despite public ownership of the tracks and land.

However, the group that was given the line from Canadian Pacific — the Island Corridor Foundation — comprises a mix of regional governments and local First Nations, with no direct funds to make repairs or start up new operations. 

The result has been paralysis, with only intermittent maintenance work done on the line. However, last year John Horgan promised swift action if elected premier.

"Come on, let's go. Let's get this thing done. It's an unused transportation corridor we can use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and get more people out of cars and into public transit, and yet, the government has steadfastly refused to do anything," he said before the election.

"Things like that will move quickly, and I think the public will be thankful for that."

Despite those words — and a promise in the NDP's platform to "lead and promote efforts to fix the E&N railway tracks" — there have been no announcements by the government since being elected, and no money was dedicated to a solution in its first budget.  

Instead, Trevena says more talks with the ICF are on the way.

"We're working on it. We're sitting down with the ICF board, and hopefully we'll get something going there ... There's a lot of investment that needs to be done."

'No way around Vancouver Island without a car'

The response disappointed Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau, who represents the Cowichan Valley, which is right in the middle of the line.

"I would hope for more of an answer, and hope for some action on this," she said.

"We have such a transportation issue. There is almost no way around Vancouver Island without a car, and we have this unused rail corridor that could help solve a lot of these problems."

She said it was important to find a way to link Greater Victoria to the rest of the Island besides the Malahat, which is regularly closed or lane-restricted due to accidents or construction. 

"The number of people who live in Cowichan and Duncan who are commuting to Victoria every day, and then you add the Langford traffic to that, it's an enormous amount of time that people are spending in their car, with no real alternative."

Other options floated for the line include having partial service resume between Langford and Victoria at a lower cost or converting the line to a bike route for tourists. 

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.